being a teacher, being me

One Small Thing

Our house is a mess.  In between coming home from being away, the rush of two school days, the joy of Thanksgiving and now the Christmas decorations, it seems that on every surface, in every corner, there is something out of place.  A job that calls for my attention, urging me to pick up, clean up, fix, do.  It is overwhelming to simply wander, now knowing where to start.

My house reminds me so much of our work as teachers.  Everywhere we see projects half-finished, ideas calling out for us to work on them, conversations that should be had, and, indeed, children who seem to have a long way to go.  Children who we are not quite sure how we will ever get there, wherever there may be.  Children who need us in ways that we have not really discovered fully yet.  Children whose lives will be shaped by the decisions we make, whether we intend them to or not.

It is overwhelming at times, all-consuming at times, urgent at times.  Where do we start?  Where do we go?

Too often we are big idea people as teachers, and yet within this innate quality to juggle many different components at the same time also lies a dangerous mindset; the idea that we must think of all things at the same time.  The idea that if we do not constantly focus on the whole then we will never reach our destination.  It is a paralyzing mindset, one that may spur us into action at first, but then burn us out.

Yet, just like our houses, our lives whose unfinished projects call our names, we have a choice to make.  Do we sit back, looking at all of the projects calling to us, or do we simply go from one thing to the next?  Do we have an overall goal in mind, but then focus in on the one small thing we can do right now?  The child we can sit with?  The lesson we can plan for tomorrow?  The book we can read tonight?  The idea we can try right now?  The change we can when it comes to the inherent wrongs we are constantly faced with in this world?

So I propose a simple reminder today; focus on the next small thing and once that is accomplished then focus on the next small thing.  Be aware of all of the needs, but focus in on one.  Don’t force yourself into this perpetual state of overwhelmedness that seems to envelop us all as teachers, as adults.

Start small with each child focus on what you will try next right now.  The next few days.    Change a text.  Change an approach.  Try something new.  But do it one at a time.  And then pay attention to the small changes.  To the small moments that indicate successes that we so often miss when we keep our eye on the end of the year.  The growth is happening, I promise, we just have to take a moment to see it.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher, being me

The Great Teacher Myth

I have spent the last few hours quietly wandering around NCTE, trying to listen more than talk, processing, pondering, and also trying to reflect on the work that lies ahead when I return to room 235d this Monday.  When the reality of what it means to teach comes back versus this dream world where we sit and discuss how we can change what we do to make it work for all kids.  To work for all adults.

And yet, the learning doesn’t have to end when we return to our school.  The conversation doesn’t have to end.  Only if we make it.  Because in our school, every day, we are surrounded by people who have ideas.  By people whose voices may not have been heard, yet.  People whose ideas have not grown past their own classroom doors.  And yet, how many of us will go back and try to engage in the same professional conversations that we engage in when we leave our schools?  How many of us would rather go to a professional development day than spend a day immersed with our colleagues, trying to grapple with the weight of the very reality we teach withing?  How many of us, myself included, would rather idolize someone who doesn’t teach with us because they seemingly have it all figured out and if we only listen to them some more we will, surely, finally be a great teacher?

It’s a lose-lose situation and an unsustainable one at that.  When we assume that “those teachers,”  that “those experts” have it all figured out, we only see ourselves as less than.  As someone who perhaps doesn’t have ideas to share.  As someone who there isn’t space for in the conversation.  As someone who will never be good enough, let alone a great teacher.  And this simply isn’t true.  Our schools are brimming with people, and yes, kids are people, who have so much to share if we only start to realize the wisdom that surrounds us.

Because I can tell you this; as someone who has been given a lot of space, who has had labels, both positive and negative, attached to her very being; I am nothing special.  And I don’t mean it as a false sense of denigration.  As a way to tear myself down so that others can lay on the accolades.  I am simply a teacher who chose to reflect out loud.  Who chose to question her own practices because she faced the very harsh reality that if she continued on the path that she was on, she would harm children.  Who screws up oftentimes privately, sometimes publicly, who is lucky enough to have people who care enough (or are angry enough) to point it out and tell me I can do better (thank you!).  And so are you.

So it’s on all of us.  If we don’t give space.  If we don’t strike up conversations.  If we don’t reach out and ask for help from the very people we work with.  If we don’t share more of our mistakes as some of us are handed pedestals to stand on, then we are doing a disservice to those who come to us or guidance, who trust us with their time, who call us colleagues and mentors.

So find your worth, share your story, trust me when I say; we are all just trying to figure this out.  Sometimes we do great, sometimes we don’t, but we are all in this together.

 

 

 

Be the change, being a teacher, student choice, Student dreams

This Is Hard

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“This is hard…”

The group looks at me, hoping I have answers to give, some ways to make it easier.  And while we have been working together for the past ten minutes, while I have been coaching the best that I could, it is also time for the truth.

“Yes, it is…this is hard work but guess what?  You’re doing it.”

They get back to work, we continue with our learning.

This simple moment together doesn’t fix the work that lies ahead.  The hard work of understanding, of growing, of learning.  It doesn’t make it less hard, but what it can do is make it easier to carry.  Make it easier to stick with it, to try again even when it seems unclear, uncertain, or even just plain challenging.  When we acknowledge that this work, whatever it may be, is, indeed, hard we are letting kids know that it is not that they simply don’t understand it.  That it is not because they are somehow dumber than other kids, or less capable, but that instead, that all kids go through these phases of learning and that at times, the work is hard to do, to understand, to break down and carry on with.

So many of our kids who feel less than.  Less than a reader.  Less than a writer.  Less than a student are not always acknowledged for the incredible effort it takes to learn.  For the incredible work that their brain is doing to make sense of something that seems incomprehensible at first.

And so we must tell our kids that learning is hard work and mean it.  We show our own struggles when it comes to doing the work by working in front of the kids rather than doing the work before they show up.  We tell them when we are unsure, when we mess up, when we really have to break it down into small steps in order to feel like we are moving forward at all.  We show them what learning looks like as an adult and then we remember to acknowledge the work behind their growth, no matter how small it seems at times, is something to be proud of.  That in this moment, that in this class, they have grown as a learner, and that is something to be proud of.

The work we are doing right now is hard.  Analyzing text is hard, even for adults, and yet at that moment, when we recognize that this is not easy work, we offer students a chance to see themselves not as students who cannot get it right, right away, but instead as students who are learners.  And learning takes time.  Let’s not forget that.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

being a teacher, global read aloud

The Difference the Global Read Aloud Makes #GRA18

As the 9th annual Global Read Aloud wrapped up, I received the following letter from Aisha Saeed, the author of Amal Unbound.  It made me think of how grateful I am for this project, for the people who believe in it, and for the movement it has created around the world.  

And so, this is the blog post I posted on the Global Read Aloud blog, I thought I would share here.

Whenever I choose a book for the GRA, I hold my breath for a long time.  Will the people who read it aloud get why I chose it?  Will they see the beauty?  The possibility of understanding?   The connections between themselves and others whose lives may seem so different?  The books chosen this year once again allowed people to step into a culture that many had not experienced.  To cheer for a girl who seemed to face impossible circumstances and yet trusted herself to make a difference.  To understand a boy who in the end just wanted to be himself.  To hold our breath for three refugees as the world turned against them, to understand a girl’s path to adulthood when the world only sees her through one part of an identity.  To dive into indigenous culture and see it for its beauty and its presence all around us.

To the authors and illustrators of these books, in sharing your words with us, you allowed us to share our words with the world, and that means that the world has now changed.  I cannot thank you enough for creating these books because while the Global Read Aloud may be coming to a close, for us all, these books and their stories have provided us with something bigger – a beginning.  And for that, I will forever be grateful.

Aisha Saeed, the author of Amal Unbound, wrote the following thank you.

Dear Teachers,

When I was eight years old my mother packed me leftovers for my school lunch: keema with roti. Children teased me mercilessly in the cafeteria. They scrunched their noses and pretended to gag at the sight of the unfamiliar food.

During the Global Read Aloud you ordered samosas, pakoras, jalebis, chai, and full Pakistani feasts for your children to sample. I saw a picture of a South Asian child sharing with pride the roti they had for lunch with their class.

When I was ten years old I ran into kids from school while my family and I were at the grocery store. We were on our way to a dinner party and dressed in our finest shalwar kamiz. For weeks after, children poked and prodded me about the “strange” costumes.

During the Global Read Aloud I watched parents visit your classrooms in shalwar kamiz to share their Pakistani culture. I saw photos and videos of children wearing their ancestral clothing, standing before their classrooms as they discussed the beautiful outfits of South Asia.

When I was twelve years old, I went to school the day after Eid with deep orange henna still on my hands from the holiday. Children shrieked and pretended my hands were diseased. Despite my explanations, they refused to sit next to me until the color at last faded from my hands.

During the Global Read Aloud, you discussed henna, you brought them into classrooms. You celebrated the tradition and children decorated one another’s hands.

All through my elementary school years, I was taunted for my identity. And yet I couldn’t hide from who I was. My skin, my hair, my name— spoke too loudly. And as painful as it was, I thought it was normal. I accepted it.

During the Global Read Aloud, so many of you went beyond the book and dove into Pakistani culture. You brought in music. You Skyped with classrooms and people in Pakistan and around the world. You invited local community members to share about the people and the culture of Pakistan. You walked into South Asian markets and clothing stores and bought pomegranates and chadors and did everything you could to bring “over there”— here.

In a world where Pakistan is often equated to dangerous, you helped combat stereotypes. You helped children see the underlying humanity that all people possess which bind us together—because that is the truth. There is no “us versus them”— we are all people.

I’ve read your e-mails and posts. I’ve looked at all your photos and videos. I’ve visited classrooms for school visits and through Skype. I’ve loved the discussions you’ve had with your students on patriarchy, indentured servitude, fairness and justice, and hope.

But you did something else too.

You not only helped children glimpse life in another person’s shoes, you helped children feel seen. You honored them. You validated them. You celebrated them.

When I got the e-mail from Pernille Ripp that AMAL UNBOUND was selected to be part of the global read aloud I was humbled and grateful. What a dream as an author (and a former educator!) that my book would be read by your students. But I could never have imagined just how deeply meaningful and personal this experience would be for me. In honoring your children, the scars from my childhood feel healed.

Regardless of which book you chose, by participating in the Global Read Aloud you opened children’s minds and hearts and connected with the world around us and in doing so you created a whole heaping of empathy that the world can never have enough of. And as the whirlwind six weeks of the Global Read Aloud come to a close, from the bottom of my heart, I  thank you.

With love and gratitude,

Aisha Saeed

Sign up for 2019 is open, join us as we once again try to connect the world, one book at a time.

 

 

 

 

being a teacher, contest, Reading

Win A Copy of Game Changer

Thank you to the more than 750 people who entered – the two winners were randomly drawn and have been notified.  I highly encourage you to purchase your own copy.

 

This morning as I stand in my kitchen making waffles for my four ravenous children, I have also been sneaking some reading in.  After all, isn’t this multitasking at its finest?  The book that keeps pulling me away from the wafflemaker?  It is the new book Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids by the fantastic Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp.

With its inviting layout, straightforward language, and research-based best practices, this is a must add for any educator who works within literacy.  The book features tried and true fantastic ideas for increasing the access to books for all kids, and not just in the traditional sense of placing books in the hands of children, but also how to help students develop or maintain a positive relationship with reading.  As someone who spends much of my time immersed in the same world of advocacy, I love the realness of the book, its no holds barred advocacy for all kids to have meaningful and personal relationships with books, as well as all of the research cited.  (I geek out on research).

In order to celebrate its release, I am therefore giving away two copies of the book.  This contest is open to the world, so no matter where you are you can read the book.  All you have to do is enter on the form below.  I will pull a winner tomorrow night, Sunday the 11th of November.  If you do not win, please consider purchasing this book on your own, you won’t regret it.

Be the change, being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity

Let’s Talk About Reading Logs Again

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Let’s talk about reading logs for a moment.  Yes, I know I have gone down this path before, but it bears repeating because not a week goes by without someone asking about them.  Asking how they can speak to their child’s teacher about the reading log they have now been assigned.  Asking how they can convince their colleagues that they are not needed.  Asking how they can change their own practices.

As someone who used to believe in reading logs and assigned them myself, I get the draw.  A way to check to see if kids are really reading outside of our classrooms – sign me up.  We veil it in reasons such as to become a lifelong reader you need to read for pleasure.  If I am not around to see that then I need proof.  And yet, reading logs is every single year one of the top reasons that my students hate reading.

As a parent, I have seen the damage firsthand.  When presented with a reading log one year, Thea quickly informed me that ALL she had to read was the 20 minutes that it said, after that, she was done.  It didn’t matter how much I told her that it was not just 20 minutes that she needed to read because the piece of paper told her so.  And the paper trumped my insistence to simply read.

We have been lucky in that every time a reading log has been sent home for our kids to do, three times and counting so far, we have had incredible teachers who have been fine with us not doing them.  We explain that we read every night, that the log changes our carefully protected reading habits, and ask whether they will simply trust us when we say that our child reads.  But this is not always the case, sometimes teachers insist that they are done, that they use them for grading purposes, that they are not an option.  They attach rewards, punishments, special treatment to those who either do or don’t do the logs.  As if parents signing a piece of paper tells us anything about a child’s reading habits.  Because I am here to share a secret; as a parent, I lie on reading logs.  I don’t always know which specific books my child just spent the last 30 minutes devouring.  Sometimes I do, but not always.  I can’t tell you the exact minutes of reading because we don’t keep track.  Sometimes we simply forget to sign because life is busy.  It reminds me of what Donalyn Miller says that the only thing a reading log proves is which parents have a pen on Friday morning.

I write this post not to shun, not to rage, and not to put down. I write this post not to say what is right or wrong, but instead to add a little tiny piece to the ongoing discussion of where reading logs may or may not fit into our classrooms.  Of the damage and the usefulness of reading logs.  This is not a post with absolutes, or at least, I don’t think it will be.  Instead, it is a post meant for discussion.

How I Know My Students Are Reading

One of the biggest reasons I know teachers use reading logs is the accountability piece, if students fill out a reading log then I can see their outside reading lives, and while that is sometimes true (remember, parents lie) there are better ways to do it that don’t involve the traveling of paper back and forth.  How do I know my students are reading if I don’t check their reading log?  How do I know that at some point their eyes meet a text?  There are many ways actually.

  • They sign in with their page number.  On our whiteboard hangs a simple sheet that allows kids to put down the page they are currently on in whichever book they are reading.  At the end of a week, I do an average tally for each kid.  They have individual reading goals (set by them) that they keep track of in their notebooks and they also enter in their page numbers in a reading data sheet.  This allows kids to see their own patterns of reading, as well as to reflect on their growth.  I can quickly glance and see who is reading or not.
  • I watch their reaction.  Kids who read want independent reading time.  Kids who are in a great part of a book want time to find out what will happen next.  Kids who slowly get settled into their book, who distract others on the way; those are the kids I need to check in with and help.
  • I keep an eye on their to-be-read list.  As I confer with kids, I glance at their to-be-read list, it should be messy, with titles added and sometimes crossed out.  I know which books have been book-talked so I can see when kids are using it.
  • I kept an eye on their book bins.  A whole bookshelf in my room used to be the proof that my students read.  Periodically I would look through their bins, noting which books a kid has and whether those books had changed.  If they hadn’t, I checked in with that child.
  • We recommend.  Another favorite in our room is the speed book dating.  We quickly rattle off a book we love and why it should be read while the listener has their “I can’t wait to read ” list in their hand.
  • We show off our reading.  I have my reading door outside of the room so that my students always know what I am reading and my students can recommend books to their peers on a book tree.  This makes our reading is visible.
  • We discuss.  Reading should not be a solitary endeavor so we make time to discuss our books and why they are the best or the worst book ever.
  • I kid watch.  If I want to know whether kids are reading, I watch them.  Sometimes instead of conferring, I just sit back and pay attention.  This is one of our great superpowers as teachers, don’t forget that.
  • We reflect.  I often ask students to tie in today’s teaching point with whatever they are reading right now.  Whether it is on a notecard or through conversation, students take a moment to think and apply and once again lets me see what they are reading.
  • We do monthly reading reflections.  This year I really wanted to have a open dialogue with the students in regard to their reading life and although I do constant one on one or small group instruction, I wanted something more formal that I could file away and look at when needed.  My students know they are not judged on what they write but rather that I use it as a way to start a conversation with them.  I always appreciate their honesty and my actions show that.  The surveys are quick and to the point.
  • We have great books.  If you want kids to read, have great books.  I do not know how much money I spend a year on books, I know it is a lot, but every time I am able to book talk a book and see the reaction in my kids, it is worth it.  Couple that with an incredible librarian and my students are pretty lucky in the book department.
  • I lose a lot of books.  Because I encourage my students to take our books home to read, I inevitably lose a lot of books.  While it is hard to think of it from a financial standpoint, I also know that hose books are being read by someone.  So yes, it is hard to constantly replace books (and expensive) but it is something that goes along with being a reading classroom.

If You Have to Use Reading Logs

I have written before on my complicated relationship with reading logs; from being a teacher who demanded all students fill them out, to a teacher who threw them out, to a teacher who was asked to use them as part of their teaching, to a teacher whose students asked them to stop, to a parent who has signed them.  But I have never written about how to use them better.  Because I don’t like reading logs, there I said it, but at the same time, there are so many teachers that do, great teachers that care about children’s love of reading, and there are even teachers that have to use them.  And I don’t feel that shaming others will further the conversations.

My biggest issue with reading logs comes from the inherent lack of trust that they communicate; we do not trust you to read every night, we do not trust you to read long enough, nor do we trust you to grow as a reader, so fill out this paper instead.  And while I could write a whole post on that, I think Jessica Lifshitz did a much better job on it than I ever will.

And yet, I also see the value in getting a window into the reading lives of a student.  I see the value of having students understand their own reading habits so they can figure out how to grow.  To mine their own data so to speak in order for them to discover new patterns and new goals.  So what can we do, if we have to use reading logs (or we want to) to make them better for students?

Ask the students.  Ask the students their feelings on reading logs and consider their feedback carefully.  If most of your students think this tool will help them become stronger readers then work one out with them.  For those that are opposed to them, figure something else out.  If we truly want students to fully embrace the opportunities that we say can be found within a reading log then we need to make sure they have buy in as well.  Create reading logs that are meaningful to the students, which means that they will probably look different from year to year, based on the students we teach.

Ask the parents.  I will flat out tell you that I will sign whatever I have to from school.  I will not count the minutes, I hate writing down titles because we read a lot, and I do not see much value in her logging her reading every night.  If you want proof, ask me in an email or in conversations, but do not make me sign a piece of paper.  If some parents like reading logs then by all means work out a system with them, but exempt the other parents since more than likely they will probably not be invested anyway.

Differentiate.  For the kids that do want a reading log, find out what it is they would like to gain from it.  I have a few students that love coming in every Monday and writing down the titles of the books they read or abandoned over the weekend (that is all they keep track of plus a rating).  For those kids their record keeping is a way for them to remember what they have read and whether they liked it or not.  They do not keep track of minutes or anything like that, we discuss that in our written reading reflections that we do once in a while or face to face.  So find out what it is that the students like about logging their reading, if it is the reward that is attached to it then that should be a huge warning sign.

Keep it in class.  When I had to do a reading log in my former district, we kept it in class.  Students were asked to write down the title and for how long they were focused on the book right after independent reading.  That way, organization and parent follow up were removed from the equation and all kids (and me) were following the district expectation.

Stop rewarding.  If reading logs really are meant as a way to investigate ones’ own reading habits then stop tying in rewards with them.  The reward is in the reading, not the ticket, not the pizza, not the trinket.  Ever.

Stop punishing.  When we punish kids who do not turn in their reading logs, we forget our bigger purpose; to establish lifelong readers, instead investigate.  Why was it not turned in?  What happened?  And for the sake of everything good; do not force a child to then miss recess to make up for the lost time in reading.  You do not want to equate reading with punishment, ever.

Make it an experiment.  If you like using reading logs to find out student habits, then do it as a 2-week experiment with all students.  Have them for 2 weeks keep track of when, where, what, and how much they read and then have daily or weekly conversations and reflections on what they discover.  Set tangible goals from that.  Do it periodically throughout the year if you really want this to be seen as a learning opportunity, that way students can see a value in tracking their reading life this way.  If you have them do it all year, most students lose interest and will not see it as an opportunity to grow but just as one more thing to do.

Leave time for reflection.  Rather than log, we reflect.  My students set monthly reading goals and then at the end of the month they reflect on how they did through a survey.  The students and I will meet and discuss formally and informally and this is what I use for my vantage point into their reading life.  I ask them to tell me what they are working on and they do.

Don’t forget the purpose of reading logs.  If the purpose is to help students grow as readers then make sure that the very act of filling out a reading log, with or without parent signature, is not damaging that purpose.  It is often when we set up more processes for students in order to help them read better that we lose them as readers.  When kids spend more time doing things attached to reading, rather than the act of reading we have a problem.

In the end, in our pursuit to establish classrooms filled with passionate readers, we must make sure that the things we do, even little parts of our day like reading logs, do not do more harm than good.  That we fit our processes around our students, rather than the other way around.  That we continue to debate, question and consider as we decide what to invest our time in.  And that we always, and I mean always, ask the students what they think.  Even the little ones, they have a voice that matters too.

For all my ramblings on reading logs, here is where to start.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.